Mabton Mel

Almost 18 years ago, I moved to the Pacific Northwest from the Midwest. Other than Mariner Ken Griffey—who I assumed would end up with the Cincinnati Reds because .. who would ever want to play in Seattle?—I didn’t know anything about the teams.

Things have definitely changed. Now, I consider this my home, and I became a Mariner fan—although I do still question why on most days. From a baseball history perspective, it also means I essentially started with a clean slate in the Northwest, and I have a lot of catching up to do on the history of the players.

For example, I was surprised to learn from this 1965 Topps card that Mel Stottlemyre was born in Mabton, Washington in 1941.

Mel Card Front

Mel Card Back

Mabton was originally inhabited by the Yakama people until the Northern Pacific Railway arrived around 1884 and built a water tower. The town continued to grow, but the population hasn’t increased significantly since those water tower days.

Welcome To Mabton

Mel was and still is the town’s most famous citizen. After he pitched in the 1964 World Series, Mabton’s Mayor, Del Hunt, proclaimed Oct. 22th as Mel Stottlemyre Day. Mel had started three times in the recent fall classic, finishing 1-1 with a no-decision. That didn’t deter his hometown. On October 22, more than 1,000 people showed up in Mabton’s City Park to welcome home the World Series Rookie.

The event was held in the park because the gym could only accommodate 600 people, and the town’s population was fewer than the 1,000 people that showed up. Mel was given a parade and presented with a distinguished citizen’s award, an honorary membership to the Lions Club, and a deer rifle. Incidentally, he took the new rifle hunting the next day only to end up on crutches after spraining his ankle by stepping into a ditch.

Mel Parade


I really did not set out to give a history lesson about a small town that most people in the State it resides in probably couldn’t find on a map. Rather, I was reflecting on how many stories baseball cards tip off if you look close enough.


Paper Route Money

Hall of Fame Weekend has me thinking about history—baseball cards connected me to the players and the teams as a young fan in the 80s.

During those years, we were in the middle of an over-produced and manufactured baseball card industry. Houses were converted into baseball card shops in almost every neighborhood similar to the way you find a neighborhood bar on main street. Both are dedicated to the locals, but the clientele at the shops scoured the shelves for creased corners instead of malt choices.

These shops were spectacular. Like many of my friends, I was a kid delivering newspapers so I could save enough to buy a Mark McGwire USA card, but you would just as likely find a doctor, lawyer or other adult standing alongside you sifting through the cards. After reading about McGwire and players like Barry Bonds in the evening paper as I completed deliveries—this was during the time when the newspaper issued a morning and evening edition, their cards were must-haves.

Other than the card shops and the newspaper, we might catch TWIB (This Week in Baseball). It only aired once a week, so if I really wanted to learn more about a player or a team, I had to find the cards.

Today, instead of the corner card shop, we browse eBay. I remember one of my greatest joys from the baseball card shop era, though, that we miss with the online experience. Long rows of cards awaited the fan, and we could flip through the cards for hours while connecting with fellow collectors. During a single visit, I might flip through multiple Jack Clark, Pete Rose and Harold Baines cards that I already owned—all while enjoying the stale cardboard aroma—until I discovered a treasure.

The treasure … Ernie Banks, Thurman Munson, Catfish Hunter, and so many other players from previous decades. These players were spoken of in the hushed tones afforded only to legends. But, finding their physical card gave me a connection to a time and a place. It gave me a way to measure this legendary player to today’s players.

History—this is how we would connect as baseball fans to the players of the past and the present.  These baseball cards linked us to a mythical time and place before the world turned cynical when players like Banks just wanted to “play two”.

Fast forward to the present.  I am a fan that was driven away from baseball and baseball cards after the disappointment of the 1994 cancellation of the World Series. Cal Ripken’s 2,131 game achievement brought me back.

Through it all, I still have those cards I collected as a kid that remind me of the fun of the game.  Now, I find myself collecting special years and special teams.  Baseball cards remind me of what is good about the game.  What is fun. What is worth holding onto.  I miss the overproduced days sometimes because it connected us as fans in the community.  eBay is nice but distant.  I look forward to where this SABR community grows and connects fans.